Math anxiety is commonly known as negatively associated with math performance among students. Per the Cognitive-Attentional theory, a high anxiety level impedes recall and the working memory capacity, subsequently leading to lower performance. Using a large sample, Yu and colleagues conducted a study to examine whether the math anxiety-achievement link depends on gender. They hypothesized that the difference may be explained by emotional susceptibility which is the ability to experience and be influenced by emotions. Females are more sensitive to negative emotions, while males are more composed and less vulnerable. Moreover, neuroimaging indicates different emotional processing modes between genders.
The study involved 28,129 grade 4 and grade 8 students from 489 primary schools and 238 secondary schools in Qingdao, China. The researchers measured the students’ math anxiety using an abbreviated Math Anxiety Rating Scale and math performance using a researcher compiled multiple set of tests in May 2018. The results showed that:
- Compared to girls, boys reported slightly higher mean math anxiety scores for both grades. There was no significant gender difference in math scores.
- Girls exhibited a stronger negative association between math anxiety and math performance. In other words, female students who reported higher levels of math anxiety tended to have lower math scores than their male counterparts.
- The negative math anxiety-achievement link was stronger in grade 8 than in grade 4. The link increase with age could be related to the increased difficulty of the math curriculum.
The study found that the impact of math anxiety on math performance was stronger in girls than in boys and stronger in eighth graders than in fourth graders. Though there was no direct proof that the gender difference might be explained by emotional susceptibility, based on the large sample and consistent results, authors suggested that teachers could be more attentive towards girls who experience negative emotions related to math and refrain from using gender stereotypes. As the link intensifies with age, it’s crucial to take preventive measure when students are young.
Source: Yu, X., Zhou, H., Sheng, P., Ren, B., Wang, Y., Wang, H., & Zhou, X. (2023). Math anxiety is more closely associated with math performance in female students than in male students. Current Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-023-04349-y